WHAT JUST HAPPENED. News media reported Monday, November 28, 2022, that the Sandiganbayan rejected separate motions for reconsideration filed by seven persons convicted of graft and malversation involving P24.4 million pork barrel allotted for the GSP Cebu Council in 2002-2003.
Last May 17, 2022, the anti-graft court convicted seven of nine accused of corruption and malversation of public funds. The three Martinezes -- former congresswoman Clavel Martinez, her son ex-Bogo mayor Celestino III, and her daughter Maria Cielo -- and former congresswoman and ex-mayor Paz Radaza, with three other co-accused, filed a motion for reconsideration. The eighth accused, then Bogo treasurer Rhett Minguez, filed a notice of appeal. The charge against the ninth, GSP-Cebu officer Alejandrita Meca, was archived because she has remained a fugitive.
The accused, except for fugitive Meca, were sentenced last May to jail terms ranging from 18 to 30 years on three counts of graft and 24 to 51 years on three counts of malversation, along with fines of P10 million, P7.1 million, and P7.3 million for the first, second and third charges, respectively. They were also ordered perpetually disqualified from holding any public office, with any retirement benefits forfeited.
The court dumped the motion for recon -- in a resolution promulgated last October 12, 2022 yet but publicized only starting Monday, November 28 -- and affirmed its earlier decision "en toto" (totally or entirely).
ERRORS, GROUNDS. The movants cited "errors of procedure" and "substantive grounds," which the Sandiganbayan denied "for lack of merit," ruling that "no substantial and compelling reason warrants" a reversal or change of its May decision.
Yet the court said it "has painstakingly taken a second hard look" at the arguments of the accused, with Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero using 21 pages to explain the denial. He gave two issues more attention than the others: (1) unjustified delay (2) conspiracy.
WAS THERE 'INORDINATE DELAY'? Celestino Martinez III, Bogo mayor at the time, alleged "inordinate delay," which in effect denied him due process, saying more than three years had passed from the time the complaints were filed until the Ombudsman filed the resolution finding probable cause.
On length of the delay, the court cited the Supreme Court's "balancing test" in Rosario vs Commission on Audit and Cagang vs Sandiganbayan, which considered not just (a) the length of delay but also (b) the reasons for the delay, (c) the assertion or failure to assert the right by the accused, and (d) actual prejudice caused by the delay.
The SC considered five years as unreasonable delay in one case; 3 and a half years in another case as not inordinate; and, in another, 3 years, 3 months and 18 days as justified. The high court looked at the complexity of the case and whether the accused "invoked the right."
In Tining Martinez's case, the Sandiganbayan said, he and his co-accused sought reinvestigation and reconsideration, of the Ombudsman's resolution, which it considered a "waiver of his right to a speedy disposition." To assert for it now, said the Sandiganbayan, quoting Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, is "an illusion like a munificent bequest in a pauper's will."
When does a delay seriously impair the right of the accused? Only when the defendant "is rendered unable to adequately prepare his case, which is not the case here."
RADAZA'S 'NO-CONSPIRACY' THEORY. Paz Radaza -- former Lapu-Lapu City mayor and ex-congresswoman and the GSP-Cebu treasurer then -- said in her motion for recon there was "no showing of conspiracy PRIOR to (her) affixing her signature to the checks and vouchers."
Conspiracy couldn't have occurred during or after her signing. She was involved only in one act: signing checks and vouchers that enabled the release of funds from Landbank-Banilad to accused Clavel, who was the GSP-Cebu president. There was no proof that she "agreed to the criminal design...in the beginning of the chain." Besides, Radaza argued with Maria Cielo Martinez, conspiracy "requires intent, which doesn't coexist with negligence."
The Sandiganbayan didn't agree. Conspiracy doesn't require to be proven "by direct evidence of prior agreement to commit the crime." It may be "deduced and inferred," from the "mode, method and manner" of committing it and from the acts of the accused. The "successive acts" were "integral to their furtive design," the court said.
"Implied conspiracy" was "duly established," said the Sandiganbayan. And about intent being essential in conspiracy: true but "conspiracy does not negate gross inexcusable negligence." And gross negligence is equivalent to intentional wrong, the court said. The three Bogo officials knew the strict rules on check disbursements, yet they "flouted" them. Radaza and Cielo should've been cautious "in accordance with statutory controls" but they gave the rules "scant regard." Through her negligence, Radaza, the Sandiganbayan said, "became complicit in the criminal design."
The circumstances showed "it is not required that there was an agreement (of conspiracy) for an appreciable period prior to the occurrence" of the crime. And the court wrote that quoted line in all caps.
'TRIUMVIRATE OF BOGO.' The prosecution, said the Sandiganbayan, presented the circumstances ("circumstantiated," the word the court used), which showed the "triumvirate of Bogo jumpstarted the conspiracy": accused mayor Celestino Martinez III, treasurer Rhett Minguez and accountant Crescencio Verdida -- "all of LGU-Bogo" -- were "instrumental in paving the way" to accomplish the then congresswoman's "...scheme."
Because of the three local officials' actions, LGU-Bogo released the money, sourced from Clavel Martinez's PDAF or pork barrel allocation, to GSP Cebu Council, which issued the checks in favor of the then GSP Cebu president and congresswoman.
While three local officials began the "conspiracy," there was a "convergence of the wills of the conspirators in the scheming and execution," spreading from the local government to the civic non-government organization with a member of Congress as "the prime mover if not the mastermind, of the asset misappropriation." Thus, the court said, the case must be viewed "not as a separate indictable offense but a rule for collectivizing criminal liability."
'MALING AKALA.' Radaza said she was surprised that Clavel "was a signatory and recipient of the funds." In the motion for recon, Radaza "wouldn't have suspected that Clavel would be so brazen as to take the funds for her personal benefit...leaving a paper trail in her wake."
"This brings to mind," the court said, "the oft-repeated Filipino idiom, 'Maraming namamatay sa maling akala.'"
And with that quote, the Sandiganbayan let out the secret on what gave the accused away: "Truth to tell, the paper trail did them in."
EXPLAINER: How Sandiganbayan shot down Tining Martinez's claim of inordinate delay, Paz Radaza's 'no conspiracy' argument. Ruling on motions for recon cites 'Bogo triumvirate' and paper trail that led to conviction of Clavel Martinez, seven others.
CEBU. Former congresswoman Clavel Martinez (top left), her son ex-Bogo mayor Celestino III (top bottom), and former Lapu-Lapu City mayor Paz Radaza (right), with the logo of GSP Cebu Council. (Photos from Facebook/SunStar File)
November 30, 2022
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